By Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

from a talk given in Fribourg in 1970

…From the beginning the Orthodox Church has insisted on the fact that it is not the laying on of hands, but the gift of the Spirit which brings about an ordination. At the ordination of a deacon words are used which I think ought to bring sobriety to many of those who perform ordinations. When the bishop places his hand on the head of the candidate, he says: Lord, it is not by the laying on of my hands, but by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit which Thou Thyself sendest from on high, that this man receives his rank as deacon.

This does not at all imply — and I say it with the full conviction of my heart — that the laying on of hands, the apostolic succession, the act of the Church, does not have its full value. However, this full value resides in the fact that it is the Holy Spirit which possesses the Church and not the Church which possesses the Holy Spirit, and in the fact that it is the Holy Spirit Who acts in the ordination, not the man who ordains making use of the Holy Spirit in order to perpetuate an ecclesiastical function. I think this is important. It does not at all diminish the meaning of the ecclesiastical structures, but it gives them the value due to a structure and does not permit them to take the place of something which only God can do.

Then, within this mystery of the Johannine Pentecost, the Holy Spirit takes possession of the Church and spreads more and more widely, limitlessly, reaching all its members at different levels. For there is not only the gift of grace of the priesthood but also that of the laity. I remember that a few years ago I was to take part in a youth conference from which the clergy was excluded. In order to make it possible for me to participate, the president said in introducing me: ‘Here is Mgr. Anthony, who is a layman dressed in priestly dignity.’ Obviously it was meant as a joke. Yet it is perfectly true: I am a layman and I am a priest, just as you are priests and laymen. The laity is not a pagan phenomenon! The layman is not a pagan who does not know his condition. The layman is not simply someone who has not had the good fortune to become a monk or a nun or a member of the clergy. We must recover the meaning of the laity because otherwise we shall fall into that lamentable misunderstanding known in the Churches some years ago, at least, in which anyone who wanted to belong fully to the Church, to its heart, thought that he must become a monk or a priest — or if a woman, a nun — as if the laity was not sufficient in itself, as if in itself it was not sacramental. Sacrament is received with immense fullness in the gift of Baptism, in the gift of the Holy Spirit and in the gift of Holy Communion.

Situated within this mystery of the Church is St Luke’s Pentecost, that of the Book of Acts. This Pentecost is very different from the one preceding it. The relationship which will be established between the Holy Spirit and us is not the same as the one first established between the Spirit and the Church as the Body of Christ which is inhabited by the Spirit in the manner in which the Spirit rested in Christ on the banks of the Jordan. That Pentecost is an extension of the same reality, the same fact. On the other hand, the relationship which is now to be established is different because we are members of Christ — not passive, inert members but real, living members, members who possess a personal and have a personal, unique, irreplaceable vocation. Each of us must enter, not as a part belonging to the whole, but as an irreplaceable unit in personal accord with the Holy Spirit. In Christ we become a man. In the Holy Spirit we are made specific and unique in our relationship with God…